Oh dear, that was bad. Very bad. Tomkins and Upson apart, we were very poor today and looked what we were, a team without shape and a team cobbled together with players played out of position.
I suppose Grant has some excuses. Jacobsen was injured and Ilunga is both lame and crap. We sold Daprela so we have no other option at left back, apart from Ben Haim and Gabbidon, both of whom are centre backs. But tell me, how did Avram expect the team he selected to play with any shape or width going forward?
Time and again, Parker stood on the ball, looked right and saw no options, so looked left and saw no options, so looked right again and saw no options still, so looked left again...and then lost possession. Time and again the ball was knocked aimlessly up to Cole who, playing with all the passion of a frigid nun in a brothel, lost it. Gabbidon and Ben Haim both got migraines as they approached the half way line and promptly slunk back into their own half to recover. On the very, very rare occasions that they did move forward, they had no idea what to do with the ball anyway. Just before Sunderland scored, the Black Cats had enjoyed 66% of the possession to the Claret and Blue mice's 34%. Why? Because we couldn't move the ball beyond the half way line!
Nobody outside of Tomkins and Upson played well. Boa should have seen red after six minutes for a terrible two footed challenge and offered nothing going forward on the left. Dyer was poor and, second half, seemed to be playing down the middle, compounding our problems. Parker was ordinary and collected yet another ridiculous booking with the game in injury time. Of course I can understand his frustration as Sunderland played keep ball out at the corner flag but his challenge was stupidly crass. He claimed he got the ball but it is illegal to tackle from behind, end of. As soon as the Sunderland player went to ground, a yellow card was guaranteed.
Green made one good save but his distribution was awful and he so nearly handed Sunderland a second when he came out, went to ground and lost the ball; it took a brilliant Tomkins block to save the blushes of England's 666. Ben Haim and Gabbidon were fine defensively (although Gabbidon went missing for the goal and Ben Haim played Gyan on side) but their inclusion was the reason why we lacked shape and width. It took Grant until the 83rd minute to appreciate what I was saying before kick off and the introduction of Faubert was far too late.
Poor Spector, one Kaka moment apart, looked ordinary. But again, it is hard to assess him properly because of the lack of options when we had the ball. Specs had one superb offensive moment, turning on a sixpence, driving through the heart of the Sunderland defence as if it was the Man Utd reserve team and letting fly a shot as he got into the box. I actually think we should have had a penalty because Specs was clearly shoved by Anton as he let fly, but we didn't even appeal. He also did well defensively second half when he and Tomkins found themselves 2 against 3 as Sunderland broke. Somehow they combined to keep Sunderland out.
Which brings us to Cole and Obinna. Cole did have one shot at goal after a good run off the shoulder of his marker but contrived to make Ferdinand look accomplished over the 90 minutes; enough said! Obinna was busy but time and again made the wrong choices and was poor in his execution when attempting a pass, cross or shot.
But the most inept moment came with Grant's double substitution, sending on Hines and Piquionne for Boa and Dyer. Now we had four centre halves and four centre forwards on the pitch at the same time! How exactly was that going to work? How can you judge Piquionne and Hines when there was nobody left on the pitch to pass to them? Obinna suddenly dropped deep and tried to perform as a playmaker but that is not his game, just as it is not Hines' game to play down the flank, nor Gabbidon's game to play left back, nor Ben Haim's to play right back. The team selection and tactics were simply inexplicable.
But most inexplicable of all was our tame approach to the game. Where was the spark? Where was the fire? Where was the passion? And where was the belief? We had just thumped Man Utd's reserves for God's sake, surely that should have given the team some heart? But no. We played for a draw from the start and had virtually no attacking intent. The players didn't look as if they wanted to be out on the pitch on a cold Sunday night.
But let's end on a high. Bent was withdrawn because Tomkins had him in his pocket all afternoon and, for me, our JT looked genuine international quality. There was one wonderful tackle on Bent, a superb intervention to end a Gyan run on the edge of our six yard box and that brilliant block after the Green blunder. Cross after cross found its way onto Tomkins' head or boot and he look composed throughout. He also passed the ball out of defence better than anybody else.
What a shame the rest were not up to the job!
On September the 21st, Grant selected the following team to play Sunderland:
Stech: Faubert, Da Costa, Tomkins, Ben Haim; Barrera, Parker, Kovac, Boa; Piquionne, Obinna.
That team won 2-1 because that team had shape. Before kick off, I called for a repeat but Grant thought otherwise. His selection and tactics cost us the game!
Player ratings: Green 5; BenHaim 5, Tomkins 9 Upson 7, Gabbidon 6; Boa 5, Spector 6, Parker 6, Dyer 5; Obinna 5, Cole 3. Subs: Hines 4, Piquionne 4, Faubert 4.